Sometimes life catches us off guard simply because we failed to recognize the obvious. Then there are the truly unexpected occurrences that upset the best-planned lives: the thunderstorm that floods half a town; the large-scale pandemic or natural disaster that forces hundreds of thousands of people to change their routines for months. Preparation helps, but it doesn’t solve everything. You can evacuate well ahead of an oncoming hurricane—but you still have to leave your house to take its chances, and deal with whatever you find upon return.
As a parent, you also have to help children cope with their fears and frustrations.
You may have to listen to some “It’s not fair!” wailing from the kids. You may well be tempted to echo that cry yourself. Don’t feel too guilty about it. The truly unexpected often leaves behind a load of shock that it takes a few primal screams to dislodge.
Go ahead and weep on each others’ shoulders for a while. Then, calm yourselves with a little pampering—a few days of hot restaurant meals, a week of extra sleep, whatever else is available and just helps you feel better—before you start making the rest of your world better. Give your perspective a chance to stabilize.
Once you’ve recovered from the initial shock, you can take an objective look at the current situation. What can be repaired or salvaged? What has to be replaced? Have your original plans merely been delayed, or is a major change of plans necessary? Are there things you have to let go as a total loss?
Know that where high emotion is involved, it takes more than one person to make the best next-step decision. Involve every member of your family in brainstorming concerns and ideas: even the smallest children often have good insights, and they’ll be faster to recover emotionally if allowed a little personal power. If you need outside help—whether from a social services agency or a construction contractor—give every family member a chance to meet the helpers and to understand what’s being done and why.
It’s rare, after a major unexpected happening, for things to go back to exactly the way they were—at best, you’ll all retain an unnerving sense that “the worst” really can happen. Don’t fight the change: use it to your advantage. As life stabilizes, regularly congratulate everyone for being strong and coping. Focus on the advantages of the new reality, and what you all can do to build a strong foundation and be ready for future emergencies. You can’t guarantee the unexpected won’t happen again, but you can help everyone build a sense of personal power that will help them get through anything.